How It's Going with the Books

comments: 69


So, one of the many organizational things I did on my sabbatical a few weeks ago was go through all of the books in the house and thin them out. We took three very big laundry baskets of books to Powell's to sell — they took about half of them, and the rest went to Goodwill. And what that meant was extra shelf space. But not as much as you might think.

Because waiting on flat surfaces everywhere around the house were stacks of new books that had no real homes. They were on the top of the entertainment center. The bottom of the coffee table. Both wooden chair seats in my studio. The sideboard. The table in the guest room. The floor on my side of the bed. All of these places held rogue stacks of books that had been purchased or received since the last time the bookshelves were thinned, about two years ago. So whatever space was made on the shelves was quickly filled by the gathered volumes from pretty much every room of the house. Which had been driving me absolutely insane. And when I had them all in their places, I heaved an enormous sigh, and felt like I could finally read again.


This is a huge shelf, and it came home with me when we closed our shop, Ella Posie, in 2006. I didn't have energy to repaint it then, so it remains this warm pink (I don't know what the name of the paint color is). I tacked up a little vintage plastic shelf edging I'd had sitting around forever. We drilled holes for the cords in the back of the top shelf and added two little lamps on dimmer switches up there. And this sweet little horsie is my beloved Clara May, made for me by sweet Anna. Clara May is guarding my summer reads.

A couple of months ago, I asked for some book recommendations, and got them. I took the list and, pretty randomly, I must say, picked out a whole slew, and added a few titles that I'd just had my eye on for a while. So now, in the past two months, I have finished six of the titles, and am halfway through three more. Here's my report card:

Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart. Loved it. Lovely. English houses, mysterious parentages, a little bit of romance, summer countryside descriptions, missing documents, a lonely narrator. This was the perfect book to read on a blanket under the shade of a tree in the Shakespeare Garden (which is where I read it). Good one.

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart. Loved it. Very similar to Rose Cottage in some ways — similar protagonist (and by the way if you love Daphne duMaurier's Rebecca you will probably love these) — but more mystery, a little bit of witchcraft, weird villagers, an inherited cottage, a cool neighbor-kid, more romance, animal companions. I thought there was something so poignant about the narrator Gilly's revelation:

     "Possibly the most surprising thing about the day was the discovery that I enjoyed housework. My parents' house, the vicarage, had of course not belonged to us, but in any case "helping mother" is not the same as working for oneself in one's own house. I had certainly been mistress of the house after her death, and tasted some satisfaction then, but never with this heady knowledge that the place, and all about it, was my own. It was, in fact, the first thing that I had ever really owned. Throughout my youth nothing had been mine; even my childhood's toys and books, the pictures and small ornaments from my bedroom, had been quietly removed and given away when I was from home, like the rabbit and the dog and all else I had thought to own. That the trivia of today are the treasures of tomorrow would not have occurred either to me or to my mother; I only knew that all the small things that make the landmarks of growing up had disappeared. I had come to Thornyhold almost empty-handed, the most dowerless of brides. And now this. . . .
     "So for the rest of the day I cleaned my kitchen out, every cupboard, every shelf. Even pan was scoured, every piece of china washed. The curtains went into a tub to soak, and the mats went into the sunshine.
     "By the time I was feeling really tired, and most things were back in place, it looked quite different. So good, in fact, that I went out and gathered a big bunch of asters and snapdragons from the tangled garden at the front of the house and put a vase of them on the window-sill. There was a clean cloth on the table; the cushion-covers from the Windsor chair and the old rocker were in the tub along with the curtains. They could go out tomorrow, and let us pray for a fair wind to dry them. . . .
     "Tomorrow, I thought, the town and my shopping list, bank, food, telephone. The rest of the cleaning could wait. Till I expected company? With an odd lifting of the spirits, I realized that I did not need company. I had never been so happy in my life."

Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the Table by Ruth Reichl. Loved it. Read it in just a few days. Good.

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich. Okay. I'm really sorry, Stephanie-Plum lovers — this book scared the crap out of me. I almost didn't finish it. I did laugh out loud several times at her descriptions of her  clothes ("I showered and dressed in black spandex shorts and an oversized khaki T-shirt") but generally I was terrified by this book. I can see why people love these, but I'm afraid I'm too wimpy to read the next one. Is it just me?

Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. This I loved. Read it very quickly. It wasn't on the list but I stumbled upon it somehow and just thought it looked interesting. It's honest, straightforward, detailed, fascinating. It's not sugar-coated. It is a very real account of what life was like for one family in a small town (during the winter) and a few miles down the road on the farm (in the summer). I'm keeping this one. It was great.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice. Well, I kinda liked it. I was super into it at first — it started out really strong for me. But then the mother and the contrivances sort of bogged it down a little bit. Eva Rice is a really nice writer with a lovely, languid style, and this book has gotten fabulous reviews, but I don't know. I was waiting for the plot to break out of itself, somehow. It's very controlled. I'm probably being hard on it, actually. I wanted to love it, but then I had to admit that because I liked it I also felt like I wanted to . . . shake it all out, loosen it up . . . so I could like it more. Give it a really hard shake and see what stayed.

So, there you go. Thanks again for all of these recommendations! I am having a great time with this list. There's something sort of relaxing about just plodding through it without worrying about what title will come next — it doesn't even matter. I'm just letting it all seep through. I've got three going at once right now: French Spirits by Jeffrey Greene, The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, and The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson. Now if we could get a sunny day or two around here I'd like to head back to my tree and make some headway on these!


I love your new banner, I've been wanting a nice lady bicycle of late with a pretty wicker basket in the front for carrying flowers as I ride down a pretty country lane....anyway, the bookshelf looks nice and neat and I love the warm pink colour. That's the thing about books though - you always having more books than place to put them - especially if you love books.

Mary Stewart is one of my all time favorite authors. I didn't really get into her Merlin trilogy, but see if you can't hunt up some of her older works, like "The Moonspinners." I think they even made a movie out of that one with Haley Mills. If you like Mary Stewart, I highly recommend Norah Lofts, especially her Suffolk house series, "The Town House", "The House at Old Vine", and "The House at Sunset". She follows a house from the time it's built by an escaped serf in the early 1400's through all of its subsequent inhabitants to the present. They might be a little hard to find, but worth the effort.

I read The Perfect Summer a while back and was totally entranced. The descriptions of life in the early part of the last century are fantastic and the shadow of what we know is coming covers all thoughout. There's no takeaway message per se, but I can't help but remember every time I think of it to enjoy "the now", as they say.

my daughter just finished little heathens - she's really into the depression. my sister met the author at an event and shared that her 10 year old niece was fascinated by the great depression and how families coped. ms. kalish signed a copy for my emily and wrote one or two warnings of caution for a young reader. :) great list and reviews alicia!

i love your new banner, too - the combination of the horse and the bicycle. i've become hopeless when it comes to reading. i just can't focus long enough, but i keep trying. the mary stewart books sound tempting.

I just bought two books during an airport layover. I try not to ever do this, but I was desperate! I bought "The Quickie" by Micheal Patterson and Somebody Else. It was alright, but I had a hard time enjoying its jokey, sarcastic tone (did M. Patterson ever write like this?)which is surprising, because this is my general approach to life. It was a quickie read with an intersting plot twist and one to pass along to others. The one that I am really enjoying now, the one that I can hardly bear to put down so that I can go to work and earn more money for more books is Ken Follet's "Pillars of the Earth". I bought it and thought that the story sounded interesting - I should say so! I read it in the early 90's and forgot the name of it. When I was reading it on the plane, the flight attendant came by and said that she loved it - read it four times! I don't remember what happens all the way through, so I'm reading it, and more to the point, enjoying it all over again. It's a keeper!


Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the books. Once our wedding and the move is over, I'm looking forward to some quality reading time!

Meredith says: June 03, 2008 at 10:02 AM

You have to keep going with Janet Evanovich. The first one *is* pretty violent/scary but I think after that she decided that wasn't really her. Lula becomes a hilarious regular character. Stephanie's cars keep blowing up but no one is ever in much danger or gets seriously hurt after book one. I don't care for her non-Stephanie books though. This book list seems very promising and I don't know how I missed Rose Cottage. I love Mary Stewart.

Oh man, I know just what you mean about books everywhere. We have a couple of good-sized shelves, entirely full, plus stacks of books beside our bed, on top of the piano, near the bookshelf, etc... we periodically take large loads of books to Powell's too, but inevitably it never really seems to make the amount of books in our apartment go down. I think they must be multiplying under our noses. Naughty books.

In case you want some more books to add :), I've recently read "The Master and Margarita" by Mikhail Bulgakov and really liked it. Also, I would always recommend The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery or Wind, Sand and Stars, also by him. The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, any of the Winnie the Pooh books by A.A. Milne. I don't know if you like reading poetry or not, but I really enjoy the poetry of Hafiz, Emily Dickinson, and Wendell Berry.

I really like the spurts when I have the time and motivation to read a lot, I find reading really inspiring for my creativity, even though I tend to read more heavy stuff. Hope you continue to have time to retreat with a book!

I loved Thornyhold too; I don't know why I've never read any other Mary Stewart. I'm adding Rose Cottage to my list right now - thanks for the inspiration!

You got me started on some old books for my summer read, I just had to find some Mary Stewarts for the summer. All of your books have brought back some great summer reading memories.

Thanks for the reviews...helps to weed out ones I might not be to into. Just finished The Penderwicks though, and I LOVED IT! It was just a refreshing, uncomplicated, easy read, that was absolutely adorable. I checked it out from the library, but I think I will go ahead and buy it. I even convinced my 11 year old son to read it! It is nice to know that there are still books being written out there that aren't full of guck and violence, that you could actually recommend to someone. Try to think hard about the sun like I am, and maybe it will come out in the next few days...UGH. Oregon rain. Oh well.

Thank you for sharing reviews of the books. I love, love to read and so much is pure rubbish.

I recently signed up at - it's a way to keep lists of books you've read or want to read, and you can post ratings and reviews. The site's a little clunky to use but I found it handy to have the lists & synopsises (sp?) all in one place and it's fun to share with fellow-reader friends.

Thanks for these reviews - I may try some of them out. My summer plan, however, is to find and reimmerse myself in Trixie Belden. She always beat the pants off Nancy Drew, for me.

I love your new header!

I really liked "Little Heathens" too. When our book club discussed it, the hostess made the applesauce cake, very yummy.

I have only read one Stephanie Plum book - I didn't find it scary, just not engrossing. Someday, if the others cross my path, I'll read them.

Sorry Meredith, I disagree! I heart the Plum books, but there's plenty of gratuitous violence in the other volumns. Mama Marconi and the mole? The attempted gang rape and gunning down? Sorry, but 'One for the Money' does stick out like sore thumbs among a collection of books including 'Rose Cottage' and 'Thornyhold', definitely no uzzis in those two. At least... I don't think there are.

You write nice reviews. When I finish my own stack of books, I expect I will be coming back here for some of your pre-screened good ones.

Rose Cottage and Thornyhold are great. My Granny shared them with me several years ago and I'm thinking of her now - thank you. I have read the first two Plum books and decided no more for me. The first one was OK, kind of funny but the second one turned me off. The errors didn't help either (the last name of two characters changed from Mackey to Mayer , did anyone else notice that?). I plan to use your list for a few new titles. I'm sick of the cool wet weather but it is good for book reading in a cozy bed, maybe not in the tree though. Thank you for yet another fun read. April

I love rereading the old Mary Stewart books - so comforting. I know so many people who love the Evanovich books and I tried them: I thought the first one was a little freaky but laugh out loud funny in places, but then I read 2 and 3, and it was more of the same. I started 4 (because people kept telling me I just had to read more) but decided - you know, I really don't particularly like these books and I think I've tried enough. I read voraciously but those just aren't my style. Be sure to read The Host by Stephenie Meyer. I remember seeing the black and white horror movie on tv that she got the basic idea from. Her take on the alien takeover is so imaginative.

I find the Evanovich books to be quite predictable and annoying - I'm happy you didn't succumb to the numerous recommendations to keep reading them!!

Love your banner...and the book review. I recently cleared some of my shelves, then I felt I could go get a few summer reads. :) I am a Stephanie Plum lover and her books of late are definitely lighter and totally funny (laugh out loud) I agree with Meredith's comment above.

Happy Sunny Days!

The Mary Stewart stuff sounds interesting I might have to have a look out for them in the local book shop!
I have a recommendation if you ever come across it: Sweet Poison by David Roberts - I'm not great at reviewing so:

They really are smashing.

By the sound of it, you read therefore you are! Great minds... You may enjoy this:

All the best,


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


post a comment

About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.